There’s a popular video series on YouTube that chronicles the evolution of robot-maker Boston Dynamics’ creations. Not so long ago these things had trouble walking up stairs. Now they dance better than the average white guy.
Reaction to this warp-speed progress seems to be split between “That’s adorable!” and “Oh my God, we’re all gonna die.”
Both can be true, of course. But the latter take just got more realistic. From Australian journalist Caitlin Johnstone:
So hey they’ve started mounting sniper rifles on robodogs, which is great news for anyone who was hoping they’d start mounting sniper rifles on robodogs.
At an exhibit booth in the Association of the United States Army’s annual meeting and exhibition, Ghost Robotics (the military-friendly competitor to the better-known Boston Dynamics) proudly showed off a weapon that is designed to attach to its quadruped bots made by a company called SWORD Defense Systems.
“The SWORD Defense Systems Special Purpose Unmanned Rifle (SPUR) was specifically designed to offer precision fire from unmanned platforms such as the Ghost Robotics Vision-60 quadruped,” SWORD proclaims on its website. “Chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor allows for precision fire out to 1200m, the SPUR can similarly utilize 7.62×51 NATO cartridge for ammunition availability. Due to its highly capable sensors the SPUR can operate in a magnitude of conditions, both day and night. The SWORD Defense Systems SPUR is the future of unmanned weapon systems, and that future is now.”
At one point in the video a Senior Master Sergeant explains to the host how these robodogs can be affixed with all kinds of equipment like communications systems, explosive ordnance disposal attachments, gear to test for chemicals and radiation, and the whole time you’re listening to him list things off you’re thinking “Guns. Yeah guns. You can attach guns to them, why don’t you just say that?”
And we may be looking at a not-too-distant future in which unmanned weapons systems are sought out by wealthy civilians as well.
Lest you think that last bit about rich people building their own private robot armies is just hyperbole, Johnstone goes on to quote from a 2018 article by professor Douglas Rushkoff titled “Survival of the Richest.” Rushkoff claimed to have been engaged by a group of hedge fund billionaires to figure out how to protect their doomsday bunkers when (not if) the world descends into chaos.
The biggest challenge was how to create — and then control — a security force.
“This single question occupied us for the rest of the hour. They knew armed guards would be required to protect their compounds from the angry mobs. But how would they pay the guards once money was worthless? What would stop the guards from choosing their own leader? The billionaires considered using special combination locks on the food supply that only they knew. Or making guards wear disciplinary collars of some kind in return for their survival. Or maybe building robots to serve as guards and workers — if that technology could be developed in time.”
Now that that technology has indeed been developed, you may be wondering what a world full of armed robots would look like. Well, wonder no more. A British TV series called Black Mirror sketched it out nicely in an episode titled “Metalhead” where “dogs” – armed autonomous robots that look eerily like the above Ghost Robotics Vision-60 quadruped – have gone feral and wiped out most of humanity, leaving the survivors to scrounge in the shadows for whatever is left.